I keep seeing Community Over Competition everywhere. People get upset at another photographer for "stealing" a client or undercutting their prices, and go on tangents about how creating community is more important than competing with one another. While I do agree that community is extremely important, (I mean who else is going to listen to us gripe about the industry and let us bounce ideas off of them?) I also believe that competition is healthy for the industry, and for you.
I'm not saying all competition is healthy, because let's face it, jealousy can turn into some pretty ugly attacks on fellow creatives. I am saying that having to compete with one another, even if it's only silently, is a great way to better ourselves and grow our craft.
When I first started shooting weddings for myself my main goal was to be better than the rest of the photographers in my area. I don't believe I'm better than anyone else, but I do believe it's helped shape me into what kind of work I put out into the world. The mindset of trying to be better has pushed me to keep learning and to keep growing without becoming complacent with where I am. So, here are five reasons I believe competition is healthy for us in the photography industry.
1. It makes you set goals for yourself.
Without my desire to be the best photographer in my market, I likely wouldn't have booked as much as I did in my first year. That goal made me shoot constantly, and made me figure out how to be different enough to make clients interested in booking me. Which is especially hard to do when you're up against people who have been photographers for much longer and consistently produce beautiful work. The main goal I set for myself was how many weddings I wanted to shoot that year. It made me make a plan with how to achieve that goal and I'm happy to say I accomplished it.
2. It keeps you learning.
If you're completely fine with where you are as a photographer you aren't going to have the motivation to keep learning. If you're trying to keep up with the competition, you're the one going to workshops or constantly trying new techniques. You'll be online reading informational articles or always shooting to learn your camera a bit better. Constantly learning is key to not becoming complacent and boring.
3. It will help you develop your "style".
If you want to stand out from the crowd in your area, then your style is going to start defining itself. If you're in a market of all traditional photographers and you find it boring, you'll likely push for a different type of image that will definitely stand out from the crowd. If you want to be more on the traditional side your work will reflect that and you'll start developing your style in that genre. Either way, if you're competing with other photographers you'll find a way to make your style different enough to attract clients.
4. It will help you identify your target market.
Unless you're into photography solely to make money, you're probably not going to want to book everyone that comes your way. If John Doe only shoots traditional clients and you find it uninspiring, you're going to want to target different people from him. The trick is to figure out exactly what you want to shoot and who you want to shoot. Looking at who and what your competitors are shooting is a great way to learn who you want to target and developing your ideal clients from there.
5. You'll figure out what works and what doesn't.
If Jane Smith (not a real name or someone I know) is offering a $500 print credit with her packages you'll know pretty quickly if that will work for your business. If it does that's great, it means you can compete with Jane Smith with the same types of packages. Potential clients will have a more diverse market to pick from. If that doesn't work for you, you'll be forced to examine your packages and decide if you need to improve anything to be a competitive player in the market.
Competition is a healthy part of any industry and shouldn't be discarded as being bad. Instead we should embrace it alongside our community. It's important to realize that you can compete within the community without creating bad blood or tension. Competition is more about developing and improving our own work than it is putting down others. If we remember that then we can use the healthy competition to strengthen the market and continue to grow and learn from one another.